Fats Waller: The Sheik Of Araby
The Sheik Of Araby
Fats Waller, His Rhythm & Orchestra
If You Got to Ask, You Ain't Got It! (RCA Bluebird 81125)
Fats Waller (piano, vocals),
Herman Autrey, John Hamilton, Nathaniel Williams (trumpets), George Robinson, John Haughton (trombones), William Alsop, Jimmy Powell, Fred Skerritt, Gene Sedric, Lonnie Simmons (reeds), Al Casey (guitar), Cedric Wallace (bass), Slick Jones (drums).
Composed by Harry B. Smith, Frances Wheeler & Ted Snyder.
Recorded: New York, April 12, 1938
Rating: 95/100 (learn more)
Fats Waller led a big band for a short period in the late 30s. Like Ray Charles would do years later, he built the band around his existing small group. Usually, Waller’s arrangements were run-of-the-mill, but “The Sheik Of Araby” was a noteworthy exception. It begins with just Waller and Jones (Wallace might be playing too, but it’s hard to tell from the recording) and the mood is like an after-hours club in Harlem. Then, in an effortless segue, trombonist John Haughton solos on the melody with the saxes providing backup. Waller’s vocal starts out straight, but when he gets to “into your tent, I’ll creep”, he just can’t resist making fun of the song and the rest of the vocal chorus is a burlesque. Herman Autrey is the next soloist, but good luck if you want to focus on the trumpet, as Fats comments throughout, including a series of jokes about riding camels. As Fats exhorts the band on, the full brass section finally appears for the last chorus. Had Waller hired a staff of top-shelf arrangers, his band might have been one of the top draws in the nation. Of course, he did just fine with only his Rhythm.
Reviewer: Thomas Cunniffe